Monday, April 30, 2007
Some numbers are nice, dear reader, like 69. Some are horrible, like 666 for example. I'm just back from a trip to the nord-ouest of Scotland. It was decidedly 69, not a mention of 666.
Ian, the dogs and I left Edinburgh on Friday 27th April, quite early. It was grey, here, even misty and quite chilly. After a brief stop at Tesco to buy some drinks for the journey and to return some rotten oranges and lemons, we headed West and Loch Lomond.
The Loch was as beautiful as ever. A walk along the shore, a photograph or two taken, a few moments gazing at Ben Lomond... Feel the peace, brother. Before moving on, a walk through Luss was in order. Election fever had gripped the village. I saw at least one political poster, sadly, advertising the SNP. It really did spoil the look of the place, though, to be frank, electioneering of any kind, on behalf of any party would have spoiled Luss. I'm feeling like a bitch, today, dear reader, so I'll claim, true or not, that obviously only the SNP didn't care about ruining the beauty of this fabulous wee place.
Time to press on, with a brief stop at Rest And Be Thankful to enjoy the vista.
Before long, bellies rumbling, we found ourselves looking for some lunch-time goodies in Inveraray. The Co-op provided crusty bread, soft cheese, tomatoes and a wee drop of orange juice. We took the food to the edge of the loch for a rustic, al fresco feast. The eating was a pleasure, the drinking, slightly less so. The orange juice was housed in one of those vile bottles, a strange device facilitates the exit of the liquid into ones mouth, not too dissimilar to a washing up liquid bottle. One can suck or squeeze. Either is acceptable, though both is a vulgar experience with juices shooting into the gob.
Which do you prefer, hen? Sucking or squeezing?
Our next port of call was Dunstaffnage Castle, though only brief, before heading on to Oban and an ice-cream. April should be a cool month, my little maid. The latter half warmer than the first, yes, but 20ºc? It's never right! The first day of my Spring holiday, I'm suffering from heat exhaustion, eating an ice-cream and turning lobster red!
Oban is a very popular tourist spot. Scots come for a week or two or just a weekend. Others stay a while, some are just day-trippers. Like us. Who'd joined us last Friday, I can't be sure. There were many British accents to be heard and just as many foreign languages.
I'm beginning to recognise the Polish language when I hear it, now. It's actually quite beautiful. Sounding quite slavic, though not as harsh as Russian. There were quite a few Poles in Oban, working hard. It's strange, hearing Britons complain about Poles coming here and stealing their jobs. I might ask which is more common in the UK, idleness or xenophobia, bird, but I really can't be bothered with the debate.
Heading North from Oban, we crossed Loch Etive on the Connel Bridge, passing Castle Stalker before reaching our destination, The Ballachulish Hotel, Ballachulish. Very exciting for me. A lochside view... And! Our room featured a four poster bed. I'd never slept in one before! Exciting! Nice to be surrounded by wood when you're in bed, my love, and four long lengths, to boot! To add to my excitement, a jacuzzi bath. J'adore the bubbles, like bathing in champagne!
We ate in the hotel that evening. Very good food to be had after drinks. A campari soda for Minge, gin and tonic for Phyllis. I love campari. It tastes like pomegranates. A super bottle of shiraz accompanied our dinner. I was so drunk, I couldn't take a pudding. Yes, I could hardly believe it myself.
I like pudding. It's a word interchangeable with dessert here in the UK. In the United States of America, it means custard. And then they go and call Mr Whippy frozen custard! Strange, bizarre, fabulous. J'adore it. One thing, though, that I'm unsure about, don't know if it's fabulous or not, is the inability of Americans to pronounce the h in herb. What's that all about?
But I digress...
I slept like a baby that night, my love. We got up reasonably early, about half past seven, got washed, dressed, took the dogs for a short walk, just enough to do some yellow and brown before returning to the hotel for breakfast. I hardly eat a thing most mornings. Yes, I know breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but I usually skip it. Breakfast at the Ballachulish Hotel was designed, I think, for a dinosaur - a hungry dinosaur! I picked at the offerings, indulging in porridge, muffins, toast (with butter AND jam), yoghurt, fruit, fruit juice, coffee, potato scones, fried eggs, grilled tomatoes, fried mushrooms, pancakes... I ate like a pig. I opened my mouth to speak and began to grunt instead. Then I considered the beauty of a nose ring.
A full day was ahead of us, so a big breakfast was a good idea. A gigantic breakfast, though, was not. My tummy was sore, I was so full, and before long, I began farting like a Slitheen.
Heading for Ardnamurchan, we crossed lochs on bridges and ferries, stopping, here, there and what felt like everywhere, taking photographs of the beautiful scenery, sometimes with my constant companion, the Buddha, sometimes without, sometimes going off for a walk, sometimes standing still. A leisurely drive along the southern coast of the Ardamurchan peninsular brought us, within a few hours, to the Point of Ardnamurchan and a lighthouse, supposedly the most westerley point of the UK mainland. In fact, it is not. The most westerley point of the UK mainland is Corrachadh Mòr. A tour of the lighthouse was a must. The views from the top were outlandish. We were so lucky with the weather.
The peninsular is beautiful. In my opinion, the most beautiful part of Scotland, even more so than the well known and captivatingly beautiful places such as Eilean a' Cheò, Saint Andrews and The Black Isle. Unsurprisingly so, though, really, as the West of Scotland has some of the most wild geography to offer: Sea and freshwater lochs, islands, mountains, plains. What was surprising, to me, at any rate, was the level of population. I imagined an area of Scotland practically abandoned. Although by modern standards, for a rural location, Ardnamurchan's population is far from sparse. Villages, hamlets and farms appear in quick succession along the B8007 from Salen to the Point of Ardnamurchan. A wonderful life is to be had, I'm sure, if that's your bag, though don't expect even the basics such as radio reception, telephony and gas, let alone broadband internet, mobile telephone reception and the wonders of a local supermarket. Run out of milk, and you're buggered, hen.
Though do expect to find half the people living there are not Scottish, let alone local. Most of the folk with whom we spoke were from Wales, England and Eastern Europe. Why this is, je ne sais pas. One might go back as far as the Highland clearances for an answer, but the real question to be asked is why the return of the Scots to such places is easily matched, in numbers, by peoples from far and wide.
From Ardnamurchan, we retraced our steps (well, our wheels) as far as Salen, then travelled North on the A861 to Mallaig. The B8007 is a single track road, peppered with passing places. Courtesy is a must on such byways. One might not expect passing places on an A class road, but they were surely to be had.
Mallaig is a pretty little harbour town. Its existance has everything to do with shipping, from fishing boats to ferries. Its size can be explained by the coming of the railway in 1901. After a delicious poke of fish and chips, washed down by a can of Irn Bru, we followed that railway to Glenfinnan. I thought of Brian. "He should have come here on his Scottish odyssey," I said. As members of the National Trust for Scotland, we got to park in their car park for free, though, sadly, the shop and visitor centre was closed. A short hike of five or ten minutes up a wee hill afforded us views of the Jacobite Memorial and the viaduct, as seen in various Harry Potter films, used by the Hogwarts Express. Other film fans might be aware that Connor and Duncan MacLeod, from the Highlander series, were born in Glenfinnan in the sixteenth Century.
Then the midges came out. Unseasonably warm weather is great at midday, but when the sun goes to bed, Mr and Mrs Midge come out to play - and bite! Back in the car we went and off to the hotel via Fort William with beautiful views of Ben Nevis on the way.
The next day was basically our journey home, though we did this, after another mammoth breakfast (with the Buddha) in much the same manner as our journey to Ballachulish, stopping at a myriad of different places along the way. First, a forest walk on the approach to Glen Coe during which we found Signal Rock and Mary found a herd of deer to chase. Then Glencoe village to pick up some provisions for lunch which we took in the middle of Glen Coe itself. Fantastic views of the highest peaks speckled in snow. Curious to look up at snow, dear reader, when you're sat on a deck-chair in a short-sleeved shirt in full sunshine. From Glen Coe, we drove across Ranoch Moor and on to Crianlarich for an ice-cream, then Stirling, then home.
I slept like a log!
By the way, I've just come across this article on Wikipedia: Eating a grounder. I feel really upset, my lamb.